Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Being original

Is it better to be original or to give ‘em what they want? And, would you do it for free?

by Dietrich Kalteis

You give them what they want by being yourself. Writing’s the process of expressing ideas, a unique expression, different for each of us. Turning mental images into words, and how each of us approach it is different every step. And so is finding the best way to be productive and translating those mental images to words and getting them on the page. In the end we have something original, something in our own voice. And we hope that’s what they want.

Pouring ideas into a first draft, then taking out whatever doesn’t work, revising it, making it flow, making it work. Some writers call the process painful, others see it joy-filled. Plot or don’t plot. Edit as you go or edit at the end. Write standing up. Write sitting down. Nobody does it the same way, and nobody should.

If I tried to guess what the next best seller looked like, and if I tried to write it, I’m pretty sure it would be a disaster. What I write can be summed up as the kind of story I’d want to read myself. Writing a novel is a long journey, so I need to be just as jazzed about it when I start as when I’m at the end. It’s the only way I could stick with it. 

I get inspired by what I read, the films I watch, the music I listen to, surrounding myself with what I think is great. And I draw ideas from all of it. 

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.”Jim Jarmusch

Would I do it for free? Well, if a writer aims to be rich, he or she could in for some bumpy road. I don’t believe an artist needs to starve to achieve something. And I like money as much as the next guy, and like the next guy, I need some to get by. But, I also need to write. So, a little money. A lot of money. There’s a joy in writing so I’ll keep doing it, and the rest of it will just have to take care of itself.

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”— E.B. White

You have to start somewhere, and some of my literary heroes have proven that. Hunter S. Thompson was a journalist writing on the Kentucky Derby when gonzo journalism was born. He wrote a piece on his turbulent time watching the race, fueled by alcohol and drugs, rather than writing about the event itself. Stephen King once worked as a janitor. Harper Lee was a reservation clerk at Eastern Airlines. Raymond Carver was a hospital janitor. J.D. Salinger was an entertainment director on a Swedish luxury liner. Agatha Christie worked in a coffee shop. William S. Burroughs was an exterminator. John Steinbeck worked in a warehouse. Jack Kerouac pumped gas. Kurt Vonnegut managed a Saab dealership. Ken Kesey volunteered for CIA psych tests. And Edgar Allen Poe earned nine bucks for his poem The Raven. All of them originals.


Unknown said...

So many great lines here, perfectly put, and inspiring too. Also I'm going to clip that Jim Jarmusch quote for when I lose steam. :)

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Rachel.